Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with Father Frank Hoffman (a.k.a. “Father Rocky”) on the Relevant Radio network. We were talking about Church teaching on human sexuality, and he brought up a perspective I’d never considered before: how these teachings impact Catholic children. I’d done a lot of thinking and writing about how these ideas impact married couples, but I had never considered how it all extends to the children conceived in those marriages. The implications are fascinating.
Father Rocky shared the charming story of how his mother always said that “it takes three” to make a baby: a mother, a father, and God. In his child’s mind, he said, God was always part of the answer to the “Where do babies come from?” question. When he contemplated his own existence, he always knew that a loving God was a part of his creation.
This explains one of the big social differences I’ve noticed between Catholic and secular culture: In Catholic circles it’s generally considered acceptable, even a little amusing, if you acknowledge that one or more of your children were surprise pregnancies. In secular culture this is usually considered extremely inappropriate, and is assumed to be damaging to the self esteem of the child or children in question. A while back I saw a blog post about a celebrity who made a joking comment that she and her husband conceived their last child “by accident,” and the comments were full of angry responses that accused her of being a bad mother for saying such a horrible thing. Such an emphasis is placed on the importance of parents having carefully planned and specifically desired each new child, that plenty of people even think that kids would be better off dead than to face the alternative. (More than once I’ve seen signs that say “Make Every Child a Wanted Child” among the counter-protesters at pro-life marches.)
I can see where these misguided ideas come from. When babies are seen as commodities that exist to fulfill the personal desires of their parents, something that couples create for themselves, completely on their own, one of the many unfortunate results is that it puts kids in an emotionally precarious position. Feeling like your parents weren’t ready for you or didn’t want you would be difficult for any child, but when you think that you owe your entire existence to these two people alone, it’s even more heartbreaking.
A child raised in the Catholic worldview knows, first of all, that just because a baby was a surprise doesn’t mean he wasn’t wanted. New children are seen as a natural part of married life, and thus Catholic couples take it for granted that sometimes babies come along at times when you’re not expecting them—and that’s okay. But, most importantly, Catholic children are blessed with the knowledge that, as Father Rocky’s mother used to say, “it takes three” to make a baby. They each know that their existence was a gift to their parents, from God himself, and that with God, nobody is ever, ever unwanted. With fallible human parents there may be surprise pregnancies; but with God, nobody was ever created by accident.